Poppies were springing up everywhere as I was poking about in the kitchen herb garden this week. While this is not unusual in other parts of the garden, I suppose I have the birds or squirrels to thank for leaving these seeds to grace the herbs.
Their mid-green leaves do complement the gold of the gold-leafed Lemon Balm and gold-leaved Oregano so I think I’ll leave them there. And after all, poppy seed is quite useful in baking so these squirrel-donated plants will remain.
Wide Variety Available
There are a wide variety of annual and perennials that are quite delightful in the garden and if given full sun and well-drained soil (no clay) these plants thrive in the average garden.
My welcome invader is an annual – likely Papaver somniferum – the double poppy that is the source of a wonderful tasting seed. I note this variety is also the source of opium but collecting the drug is a complex operation and not easily done.
This June-July blooming species comes in a wide range of colours – from red and pink to white and combinations of wine-red and white. Once planted and allowed to set seed, this plant will pop up here and there seemingly forever; the seeds are very long-lived.
Their emergence in my garden is a signal that the layer of mulch I use to control weeds is too thin and must be topped up. For all I know, they will lie in wait under this mulch for the rest of my gardening days.
My herb garden invader could also be Papaver rhoeas, the annual corn poppy. This one will bloom quite nicely in June and has a single flower that will shine over the garden. The rainbow colour range goes from whites through reds, salmons, pinks and oranges and these are easily identified because they have a dark blotch at the base of each petal.
If you’re looking for tips on how to design a perennial flower garden, click here
I haven’t grown P. alpinum the alpine poppy for several years so I doubt this is my invader. The delightful rock garden plant only grows to 10 inches tall and blooms very early in the summer. Most of the plants I have grown were white or yellow and they did tend to fade away after a few years in the rock garden. Their wiry stems hold the blooms well over the plants and a small patch is a charming sight.
Another plant beloved of garden centre owners (these bloom in May and sell very well in bloom) is the Iceland poppy or P. nudicaule. At 24 inches tall, these two to three inch wide blooms are quite capable of captivating even the most jaded of gardener’s hearts (I too planted one this spring). Now available in a wide range of colours, these will self-sow in the sunny well-drained garden area.
My invader definitely isn’t the Oriental poppy P. orientale. I do have several varieties of this plant out in the main beds and even though the blooms are short-lived, I manage to spend some time admiring them every summer when they explode into colour. My two favourite are a pale pink that was simply labeled “pink” when I got the seed and a wildly fringed form called ‘Turkenlouis’. Its outrageously fringed petals in shocking red are a sure-fire conversation starter.
Another called ‘Patty’s Plum’ (a plum-purple) is now readily available and I might just have to get one of those into my new garden this year.
Note that named varieties of Oriental poppies rarely come true from seed and the easiest way to get new plants is division or root
I have started more of these plants in my nursery life than I want to admit to and if you follow a few easy rules, you’ll have lots of success with this plant.
To begin with, if you are starting them indoors plan on starting them six to eight weeks before the last frost. Let me tell you that you can plant them directly in the garden just as easily.
I firm the soil with the back of a shovel or hoe to make a smooth seedbed and then sprinkle the seed over this area. The real trick is not to cover the seed too much. The barest minimum covering you can achieve is correct; all you want to do is have enough soil around the seed to keep it moist.
You do not need to exclude light from the seed as poppy seed benefits from light in its germination process.
Regularly water the seed area with a fine mist nozzle and within two weeks you should see small leaves starting to germinate.
Soil Starting Sterilization
You’ll also see weeds too unless you sterilize the soil before sowing. I recommend you boil up a kettle of water and slowly soak your sowing area with this boiling water *before* sowing. Let the soil cool before sowing.
The interesting thing for apartment bound gardeners is that this plant also grows well in containers. Add them to any large container for an exotic dash of colour in mid-season.
They’ll grow from season to season if protected from winter cold but their short bloom time means they do best when incorporated into a container garden scheme rather than grown by themselves.